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Why the Palestinian prime minister and his government resigned

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Palestinians are hoping to speak with one voice eventually in the conflict with Israel. Right now, Palestinians are divided. Hamas governs the remnants of Gaza as an Israeli offensive continues there. A separate territory, the West Bank, has an essentially separate government led by President Mahmoud Abbas. It's dominated by Fatah, which is Hamas' longtime rival. So the West Bank is divided from Gaza by geography and politics and power, and now they're trying to unify. As a first step, Abbas' prime minister offered his resignation this week.

So what happens next? We called a Palestinian leader, Mustafa Barghouti, who leads the Palestinian National Initiative, which is one of many Palestinian political parties. Why did the prime minister resign now?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, he resigned because there is a lot of pressure on the Palestinian Authority that there is a need for reform. As you know, we have lost our democratic system during the last few years since we did not have elections since 2006, and we don't have separation of powers. I mean, all the powers - executive, legislative and judiciary - are in the hands of the president and the small number of people with him. And that's why we think that this resignation could hopefully lead to the formation of a national unity interim government.

INSKEEP: I would like to make sure that I understand what you mean when you say a national unity interim government. Do you mean a single government that would have at least some authority over both the West Bank and Gaza?

BARGHOUTI: Absolutely. Because it has to maintain the unity between West Bank and Gaza and prevent Netanyahu's plan to replace the Palestinian legitimate structures with a bunch of collaborators that work under his military occupation.

INSKEEP: I will just note, the way that the Israeli government has phrased this, the way that Prime Minister Netanyahu has phrased it, is that he would like someone to run Gaza, while Israel would have overall security control and the right for its military to go where they would want to go in Gaza. But Netanyahu has also said he is unwilling to see a unified government of Gaza and the West Bank. What makes you believe that they would allow that?

BARGHOUTI: It doesn't matter whether he allows it or not. What matters is what we do ourselves. And Netanyahu doesn't want unified government between West Bank and Gaza because he wants to kill the idea of Palestinian statehood. He wants to kill the idea of a two-state solution. And when he says he wants to keep security control, he means he wants to have full military occupation of Gaza and West Bank, and he wants some kind of a quisling government subservient to him.

INSKEEP: Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has said that his group will not return to Gaza atop an Israeli tank. Would this effectively be returning to Gaza atop an Israeli tank?

BARGHOUTI: Not if it's a national unity government. If it is a pure Fatah government, yes, this would be the case. But if it is a national unity government accepted by all Palestinian groups, then he would be coming back to Gaza with the will of Palestinian forces, not the will of Israelis.

INSKEEP: I see what you're saying. If only his party were to get back into Gaza, that would be something done with Israeli power. But if they are welcomed in by Hamas, that would be something that is done by Palestinians. That's your point of view.

BARGHOUTI: Palestinians are not only Hamas and Fatah. There are 14 different political forces in Palestine.

INSKEEP: Including yours, sure.

BARGHOUTI: Including ours. And we are not Fatah, not Hamas. We are a third democratic party. We are ranking third now in all polls, and we should all be included.

INSKEEP: Someone listening to this may hear you saying that you would reach an accommodation with Hamas and feel that what you're saying is that you're reaching an accommodation with a terror group that wants the elimination of Israel. Would that be true?

BARGHOUTI: No, because they are not a terror group. And if you call Hamas terrorists, what do you call the Israeli illegal settlers who are attacking us around the clock? I think these expressions don't reflect the reality. And the reality is that we need to stop violence. We need to stop war. We need to stop the aggression that is taking place on Gaza. That's also terror.

INSKEEP: Let's set aside for a moment the term terrorist or terror group. You would reach an accommodation with the group that attacked Israel on October 7 of last year, killing something around 1,200 Israelis. Are you comfortable with that?

BARGHOUTI: As much as the United States is comfortable dealing with Israel that killed 37,000 Palestinians, including 11,000 children. What's the difference?

INSKEEP: I guess our latest figure is - not to quibble - our latest figure is 29,000. Do you have a larger...

BARGHOUTI: OK, yes. But because you don't count the 7,000 people missing under the rubble, that nobody can get to the bodies of people. But let it be only 29,000. Is that acceptable? Where does that put Israel? I think if you deal with Israel, we have to deal with Hamas.

INSKEEP: So when Israel says their strategic goal is to destroy Hamas, you consider that to be impossible and Hamas must be part of the solution, is what you're saying.

BARGHOUTI: Not only me. I think so many people are saying that, including Americans. It's impossible to destroy a movement. What Israel is destroying is the potential for peace.

INSKEEP: If you get to a cease-fire and you have a national unity government of the kind that you describe, it's possible for me to imagine a situation evolving that is similar to what happens in the West Bank, in that there is a very limited Palestinian self-government, and Israeli security forces do what they deem necessary. They have security control of varying degrees in varying parts of the West Bank. Is that a sustainable solution for Gaza, at least in the short term?

BARGHOUTI: No, it's a sustainable solution for Palestinian internal governance so that we can stand up to this occupation and end it. But no sustainable peace will be there without Israel ending its occupation of West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and allowing Palestinians to practice their self-determination and having a state of their own.

INSKEEP: To be clear, for those who are curious, does your party support a two-state solution, meaning there would still be an Israel, 1967 borders or some such borders?

BARGHOUTI: Yes, but that's what Israel is rejecting. Netanyahu is declaring every day that he will not allow a Palestinian state. That's the problem that the United States has to deal with. United States is the only country in the world that can stop this situation and open the road to real peace. Either a two-state solution, two sovereign state solution, or one democratic state with equality for everybody where we will be accepted as equal human beings.

INSKEEP: Mr. Barghouti, thanks very much for the time. I really appreciate it.

BARGHOUTI: Thank you. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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